Thursday, November 27, 2014
11

对美联储的谴责

发自法兰克福——美联储最近披露的金融危机前夕风险评估不但令自己蒙羞,也让它的批评者们获得了一次对其大肆鞭挞的机会。根据法律,美联储下属联邦公开市场委员会(FOMC)的会议记录必须在时隔五年后向公众解密。

全面危机是在2008年9月雷曼兄弟公司倒闭之后才正式爆发的。到2007年夏天为止,信贷市场开始变得有点不对劲,并开始以各种各样怪异的方式运作。然而很多美联储官员显然不能意识到当时这一切的重要性。一个管理员表示美联储应该把这种现象视为好事,因为这体现出市场开始担心次贷问题了。另一位则认定夏季的市场压力很有可能只是个小问题。

各路批评家都抓住这类声明来证明美联储很无能,并主张其独立性应该被减少甚至剥夺。这很荒谬。确实,事情可以也应该被做得更好;但专门把官员挑出来指责其没有注意到灾难即将来临的做法则是非常荒唐的。

并不只是美联储未能注意到即将来临的经济危机。2007年8月,很少市场参与者——即使是那些有能力获取大量信息和广泛专家意见的参与者——能看出些蛛丝马迹。美国国会肯定是一无所知的;其成员仍然忙于为政府支持的住房抵押贷款机构——房利美和房地美——四处游说,从而把危机推向更深处。

国际货币基金组织当时也没有意识到所发生的情况。2007年4月,国际货币基金组织发布了著名的“情人节”世界经济展望,在这份报告中它宣称其一直担忧的美国及其他发达国家经济问题被夸大了。

此外,在对政策进行积极理性探讨的情况下挑出个别官员最具误导性的评论来做为证据有失偏颇。批评个别判断力差的决策者很合理,而且他们也应该被批评。但是不能由此抹黑整个联邦公开市场委员会,更不能因此批判整个制度。

各央行最先进的宏观经济模型也非常不幸地未能发挥作用——以至于经济学业界当今时今日才开始完全承认的程度。尽管美联储在做决定时评估了很多方法和指标,但毫无疑问它深受主流学术思想的影响——包括所谓真实商业周期模型和新凯恩斯模型——这些模型假设金融市场会完美运行。事实上经济学业界以及世界各大国央行都在鼓吹“大稳定”策略——就是抑制宏观经济的波动,而部分则源自于金融当局臆想中的更科学且基于模型的政策制定方法。

我们现在知道标准的宏观经济模型并没有考虑到金融市场的脆弱性,而既要修复模型又保留其可追溯性则是一项艰难的工作。坦白说,如果这些模型能考虑到信贷市场不完美的可能性,作为对整体金融市场条件的反映,美联储就可能会更多地关注信贷市场指标,就像新兴国家央行所做的一样。

最后同样重要的是,即使美联储能在危机爆发之前更清楚地了解这些风险,它仅靠自身来避免风险也极为困难。利率政策的效力是有限的,很多最深层次的问题都出在监管方面。

而要调整反应并不容易。比如,至2007年底,美联储和美国财政部极有可能已经见过至少一份宣称只有大规模干预支持次级贷款才能阻止灾难的发生的报告。其理念就是想要使金融系统不至于去安全拆解其一手打造的复杂得难以置信的合同网络——而且不得出现系统崩溃的可能性。

这样的救助行动可能会花费约五千亿美元甚至更多,而最重要的受益人就包括大型金融公司。有没有这样一种可能——在外面的世界血流成河之前国会就已经通过了这样的措施?

事实上,正是这一逻辑让我于2008年8月9日(雷曼兄弟破产前一个月)在一场受到广泛报道的新加坡演讲中作出了一个极为负面的预测。我提出一切在变得更糟糕之前不会变好起来,而且某个全球最大金融企业的倒闭指日可待。我的论点构建于当时全球经济正在进入一个重大衰退期的观点之上,并受益于我本人和卡门·雷哈特(Carmen Reinhart)一起从事的金融危机史量化研究工作。

当时我并无意在新加坡制造轰动。我以为自己所说的一切都是很明显的事实。然而,我的预言却在全世界的许多重要报纸上以粗体字上了头条。很显然,它之所以上头条是因为人们还没有就这一事情达成一致的观点,尽管各种担忧已经逐渐增加。

在2008年的那个夏天美联储的担忧也在逐渐上升吗?这要留待明年才知分晓。但是当我们知道的时候,那已经是事后诸葛亮了。

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    1. CommentedRoman Bleifer

      Situation in February 2013 on the one hand different from that in August 2008, and on the other hand is very similar. It was even worse. Central banks have practically exhausted its possibilities civilized regulate financial markets. Multibillion-dollar infusion like an act of desperation. Neither problem has not been solved by nature over the years. The necessary investments in the real sector of the economy as there was or not. The banking system is weakened. The growth of sovereign debt has significantly undermined the stability of the monetary system. Grew only speculative financial bubbles. Ahead of the inevitable collapse of the stock markets. Only in this way can happen revaluation of assets and a new system of assessment. With the global systemic crisis can not save everyone ( http://crisismir.com/analiticheskie-materialy/ekonomika/13-mirovoj-ekonomicheskij-krizis-prichiny-i-posledstviya-quo-vadis.html ). We need to develop priorities. The crisis has greatly changed the system of international division of labor.

    2. CommentedG. A. Pakela

      If bank regulators, e.g., Tim Geithner, did what they were supposed to do, banks would have never been permitted to lend money to any institution that uses that leverage to purchase securities to amp up profits. I believe that it was James Grant who asked the rhetorical question as to why a banker who gets 5% for a loan should lend money to a hedge find (like Long Term Capital Management) that is heavily levered so that it can earn spectacular double digit returns.

      Anyone with average intelligence can take on borrowing risk, particularly of the cost of failure is not commensurate with the potential returns - that would be all of those who borrowed at zero percent down and walked away from their mortgages. There is no difference between the public that took advantage of the low down payment, docless terms and the Dick Fulds, Stan O'Neals and Chuck Princes of the world that leveraged their companies into disaster, except that the latter walked away with a heck of lot more money.

      As for Dr. Rogoff's contention that financial recessions last a lot longer than ordinary recessions, it has been about three decades since the public started taking on increasing debt and borrowing against their assets to finance consumption. Eventually it had to end, but no one could predict precisely when that would happen. There is no new impetus for increased consumer demand until the supply-side of the economy starts to rev itself up and begins hiring back all of the unemployed labor that is waiting for the opportunity.

    3. CommentedFrank O'Callaghan

      All of those who were in a position of power or influence were immune from negative consequences. The poor and the middle class are paying for this mess.
      This whole system is based on inequality. It cannot be expected that such a system will act in the interests of those who have no say in it's direction.

    4. Portrait of Pingfan Hong

      CommentedPingfan Hong

      We should not blame individual Fed governors for failing to foresee the coming crisis in 2007, but we should blame the Fed as the institution for fueling the bubbles in the run up to the crisis.

    5. CommentedGeoff Robinson

      "Central banks’ state-of-the-art macroeconomic models also failed miserably"

      The problem with the Fed isn't that we know more in hindsight, which we do. It's the fatal conceit. It's not that they are incompetent, but centrally planning the price of money is impossible. It's just not possible. It causes all sorts of distortions. Not being able to see a bubble right about the burst should destroy all illusions that they can manage the economy. While failing at an impossible task is not blameworthy, not being able to see that the Fed faces an impossible task, especially in 2013, is blameworthy.

    6. Portrait of Pingfan Hong

      CommentedPingfan Hong

      Only two kinds of people have correctly predicted the financial crisis in terms of its timing and severity: perennial pessimists, and speculators, by chance.

        CommentedGeoff Robinson

        In this amount of detail they predicted the crash? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jj8rMwdQf6k

    7. Commentedjim bridgeman

      The issue seems to be whether the Fed is a financial institution or an economic one. If the former, then they were certainly a good deal less competent than the most advanced financial institutions. By Dec. 2006 Goldman's corporate risk managers knew that the credit markets were going to implode and by early 2007 they were actively hedging and unwinding their proprietary positions. But if the Fed is an economic (which is to say, political) institution then it can't be held to account for a failure to know what's going on in the technical financial world.

    8. Commentedarnim holzer

      I appreciate professor Rogoff's analysis and agree that hindsight always adds IQ points and clairvoyance. The most important point, however, is that our system of modified moral hazard created asymmetry in the risk / reward relationship for financial institutions at a size most investors and regulators simply did not understand. While leverage statistics and credit data were available, the degree of fraud and poor control was simply overlooked because the burden of risk was not equitably distributed. This philisophical misallocation of risk that Nassim Taleb discusses in 'Antifragile' is part of the Fed's purview and hopefully will be better understood in the future. Regulation can be dangerous but ultimately the penalty for inequitable risk/ reward is costly bail-outs. The Fed's transcripts are indeed interesting and document a snapshot applicable to a brutal moment in our financial history. I would hope that the next releases also give us insight into the Fed's deeper thought process about risk and reward and the correct balance of free financial markets and societal protection. As always, there has been a political backlash from capital hill to establish extreme measures to avoid the risk of another financial meltdown. What is most needed, however, is not sure to be anachronistic new rules but fundamental principals and thoughts that correctly weigh risks and reward for the benefit of the economy and society.

    9. Commentedlaurie gravelines

      Hindsight is never 20-20; it is revisionist-memory. Errors are diminished, insights embellished. Learning the lessons of our past remains a challenge - our hindsight still passes through the prism of our pre-conceptions and intellectual architecture. Our ability to learn lessons from our past should never be taken for granted and the danger of learning the wrong lessons should not be unheeded.

    10. CommentedAlan Marin

      As an example of how even excellent economists can get assessments wrong, Professor Rogoff could have mentioned that The Times account of his August 2008 speech included the paragraph:
      "The professor also sounded a warning over rising US inflation, which rose last month to its highest since
      1991, and criticised the Federal Reserve for having cut American interest rates too drastically. “Cutting
      interest rates is going to lead to a lot of inflation in the next few years in the United States,” he said."
      Given the lags in the effects of interest rates on output and then inflation, in retrospect the 'drastic' cut in US interest rates turned out to be a much better policy than the delayed response by other central banks.

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